State News: Sanctuary City Funding Threat, Abortion Restrictions

Milwaukee Sheriff Hails DOJ Funding Threat

Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke is applauding a letter the U.S. Department of Justice sent last week. Milwaukee County was one of nine so-called “sanctuary” communities across the country to get a letter from the DOJ threatening to withhold, suspend or terminate grant funding.

The letter asked for proof the county isn’t restricting the sharing of individuals’ immigration status between county agencies and employees and the federal U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

“I welcome the U.S. DOJ communication to county executive (Chris) Abele indicating a loss of federal funds if the county is not in compliance with immigration law,” Clarke said in a statement posted on Facebook.

Abele stood by his assertion that the county is abiding by federal guidelines.

“The county’s lawyers have determined that we remain in compliance with all relevant laws and we will be communicating that legal opinion with the DOJ as requested,” a county spokeswoman wrote in an email.

The letters also went out to the California Board of Corrections; Chicago Police Department; New Orleans; Philadelphia; New York City; Clark County, Nevada; Miami Dade County, Florida; and Cook County, Illinois.

Milwaukee Inmate Had No Water For Seven Days

Prosecutors say Milwaukee County Jail officers cut off an inmate’s water for seven consecutive days before the man died of dehydration.

Milwaukee County Assistant District Attorney Kurt Bentley told jurors at an inquest Monday that the inmate, Terrill Thomas, was mentally unstable and unable to ask for help before he died in his cell in April 2016.

The DA’s office is asking a jury for advice on whether there’s probable cause that a crime was committed in Thomas’ death. The medical examiner has already ruled Thomas died because of dehydration.

Separately, Thomas’ children have filed a federal civil suit, saying their father’s treatment by Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke and his staff amounts to torture.

Republicans Reintroduce Abortion Restriction

Republican state lawmakers have reintroduced a proposal to bar the state from providing insurance plans that cover abortion services, with a few exceptions.

Currently, state health plans can provide coverage for medically necessary or so-called “therapeutic” abortions. The new measure would prevent the state Group Insurance Board, which oversees health insurance for state employees, from contracting with plans that cover any abortions, unless those abortions are to save the life of the mother or result from rape or incest.

Wisconsin’s Medicaid program has already eliminated abortion coverage. Plans sold in Wisconsin under the Affordable Care Act are also barred from including the services.

Rep. Andre Jacque, R-De Pere, one of the bill’s sponsors, said he doesn’t believe abortions are medically necessary, a claim Democrats pushed back on.

“I just find it so degrading to women who are out there listening when you suggest that you never need an abortion because you’re having a health issue or you never need abortion because you’re having a life issue,” said Rep. Chris Taylor, D-Madison. “Those women don’t want to make that decision, I can tell you.”

A similar bill was introduced in 2013, but did not pass.

The renewed proposal has yet to receive a vote in committee.

Conservative Justices Reject Recusal Standards

Conservatives on the Wisconsin Supreme Court have rejected a plan that would have required judges and justices to recuse themselves in cases that involve large donors to their individual campaigns.

The proposal, which was endorsed by 56 judges, would have required Supreme Court justices to recuse themselves from a case if they receive contributions of $10,000 or more from a party or a lawyer. Current law lets people contribute up to $20,000 to a Supreme Court candidate.

Appeals, circuit and municipal court judges would have had to abide by similar recusal standards at lower dollar amounts.

“Every judge and justice in the state of Wisconsin should be highly offended by this petition because it attacks their integrity and their character,” said Justice Rebecca Bradley, one of the five conservative justices who voted against the plan.

The court’s two liberal justices supported the recusal plan.

“The issue is so important,” said Justice Ann Walsh Bradley. “To shut it down without a hearing and without comment just undermines the public trust and confidence that is so important for the integrity of this court.”

The rejection of the recusal proposal will leave it up to judges and justices to decide for themselves whether to sit out cases involving campaign donors. Three justices are up for election over the next three years: Justice Michael Gableman in 2018, Justice Shirley Abrahamson in 2019, and Justice Daniel Kelly in 2020.

Walker: ‘No Interest’ In Vehicle Fee Increase

Gov. Scott Walker said Monday he has “no interest” in increasing vehicle registration fees to help pay for road projects in Wisconsin, but stopped short of saying he’d veto the increase if lawmakers put it in the state budget.

Walker has repeatedly promised to veto any gas tax increase for roads, but a recent statement from the governor’s office left open the possibility that Walker might support a vehicle registration fee hike.

But during a Monday press conference in the Capitol, the governor said he “doesn’t have any interest” in the fee increase.

“I’m not proposing nor do I think we’re going to have a gas tax or a vehicle registration fee increase as a part of this budget,” Walker said.

The governor said he believes the state has “more than enough” revenue available to pay for new and improved roads. He said that money can come from higher than expected tax collections and savings from other state programs.

Wisconsin Public Radio, © Copyright 2017, Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System and Wisconsin Educational Communications Board.

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